Rich Larkin was one of a half-dozen or so Warrensburg citizens who aired criticisms Aug. 8 at a town meeting about a proposed local property maintenance law town officials are considering. A follow-up workshop on the law is set for 4 p.m. Sept. 5.
Local residents confronted the Warrensburg Town Board with their criticisms of the proposed town property maintenance law, and the panel agreed to reconsider some of the pending ordinance’s provisions.
A workshop meeting to re-examine the ordinance has been set for 4 p.m. Wednesday Sept. 5, and the public is invited to attend and observe.
Criticisms were aired that the property maintenance law might be too strict, be selectively enforced, or be a burden on some homeowners to comply with.
Town officials countered that the proposed law was primarily a tool to force cleanup of abandoned and foreclosed properties in town.
Town Supervisor Kevin Geraghty said the law was also an effort to protect the property values of neighbors of unkempt properties.
The proposed ordinance forces property owners to mow their grass, remove dead limbs, trim their shrubs, repair unsound structures, and dispose of trash.
Not only are structures required to be kept in good repair, but their overhangs, gutters and canopies must be painted to prevent weathering. Fences and retaining walls, steps, walkways and driveways also need to be kept in good repair.
The law also prohibits accumulation of debris, and garbage cans with lids must be provided and used. The ordinance also prohibits placing food out for animals in a manner that allows pests, rodents or wild animals to be attracted to their property.
Although resident Rich Larkin praised the board with their work to improve the town, he also spoke of the hardship some residents might face in complying with the proposed law.
“Senior citizens on a fixed income might not be able to rebuild their porch, for instance,” he said. “We all want to improve Warrensburg, but do we send our seniors down the road if they can’t afford to live here? It’s a slippery slope you are walking on.”
Richelene Morey objected to how extensively the law was written. Board members responded that it was written with such provisions to prevent a variety of situations that degrade local quality of life and depress property values.
She warned that although the present board might not intend to strictly enforce the law, a subsequent board might be over-aggressive in its enforcement.
“You might not be here in several years — You need to tweak this law,” she said. Morey objected to how extensively the proposed law mandated snow cleanup.
Geraghty later responded that this provision, which was partially duplicated in existing town law, would likely be scrapped.
Larry Perna of River St. said property owners shouldn’t be forced to paint their houses.
Geraghty responded that the proposed law didn’t require painting house siding. The proposed law, however, requires a “weatherproof coating,” like paint or varnish, of virtually anything affixed to a house. Geraghty and Deputy
Supervisor John Alexander said this provision would be subject to further discussion.
“We’re not going to be the paint police,” Alexander said. Some residents criticized the provision that lawns must be mowed, and grass must not exceed 10 inches in height.
Board member Linda Marcella responded that long grass hosted rodents and ticks, posing a threat to public health.
Perna noted that the grass on some town-owned properties was now over a foot tall. “Who’s going to tell the town to clean up their properties?” he asked.
Geraghty responded later he appreciated the input, and that town officials would take care of such issues.
Resident Tina Sackman said the board should be careful not to be too extensive in their prohibitions, as a mixture of lifestyles is what made Warrensburg interesting.
“I came from a ‘Stepford Wives’ suburban neighborhood,” she said. “I love how people here have their own sense of style.”
She said that she was concerned that after the town forces cleanup of 10 or so “atrocious” properties, town officials might go further and venture into dictating taste. The board members responded that this would not occur.
Robert Greene noted he owned 100 acres, and a portion of it had frontage on Main St.
The law, as written, would force the removal of limbs of trees back in his remote woods, far from the street and out of view, he said.
Greene also objected to the prohibition of setting out feed for animals. Also, the law could be interpreted, as written, to prohibit keeping firewood on one’s property, or a refuse container in one’s house, he said. “This law infringes on our freedoms,” Green said.
Geraghty later said he’d review the provisions with the town attorney to assure the ordinance wasn’t too strict.
Board member Bryan Rounds said the law would be used to clean up the most offensive properties. He said that the county and state codes already have similar mandates, and a local law means would allow faster enforcement that was more responsive to local situations and circumstances.
Alexander noted that some time ago, a property near his home posed a public health and safety hazard — and the neighbors circulated petitions — but they were stymied in their efforts to force a cleanup, in part due to lack of a local law.
Marcella said the town had received many complaints on property conditions, including one plot where a homeowner piled garbage in their car and in an unkempt back yard that contained an abandoned vehicle — conditions that posed a health hazard for those living in homes nearby.
“It’s a matter of reining in bad neighbors, “ she said. “People should have the right to protect their health and property values.”